The Quay Brothers and Christopher Nolan: Where the Fizz Is

The Quay Brothers

The Quay Brothers

The creators of two spectacular (albeit different–or maybe not quite so different) film universes converge at Film Forum tomorrow.

Identical twins, The Quay Brothers, Stephen and Timothy, Philadelphia-born, have been working since the late 1970s at Atelier Konick, their London studio, creating a very beautiful and mysterious dream world of puppetry and stop-motion animation, which has evolved to encompass live action.

Christopher Nolan, an Englishman in Hollywood, has consistently produced blockbusters full of ideas, featuring non-linear plots and  gorgeous imagery: a trio of Batman movies, “Inception,” and “Interstellar.”

Nolan’s latest film, a documentary short about the brothers, “Quay,” is included in a program he has curated, “The Quay Brothers–On 35mm” (“In Absentia,” “The Comb,” and “Street of Crocodiles”), which will have an 11-city tour.

“The Quay Brothers–On 35mm” will open Wednesday, August 19 at Film Forum for a one-week run. Christopher Nolan will appear in conversation with Stephen and Timothy Quay to discuss their work on Wednesday at the 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm shows. The Quay Brothers in person at the 7:00m pm show on Thursday, August 20, Friday, August 21 and Saturday, August 22. The program will travel to 10 additional cities, including Dallas, Los Angeles, Austin, Detroit and Chicago.

Following the theatrical tour, “The Quay Brothers: Collected Short Films” Blu-ray will be released on October 20 by Zeitgeist Films and will include 15 Quay shorts in high-definition and Nolan’s documentary. (Zeitgeist’s Co-Presidents, Nancy Gerstman and Emily Russo, with their almost uncanny ability to find major directors at the very beginning of their careers distributed Nolan’s first feature, “Following.”)

Christopher Nolan, NYC, 1998

Christopher Nolan, NYC, 1998

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Not Enough Fizz* (Stillwater Diary)

Hydrangeas, Stone Ridge, NY, 8/15

Hydrangeas, Stone Ridge, NY, 8/15

It’s beautiful here–all the hydrangeas in bloom, big night sky struck with stars, warm water in the swimming hole and even sufficient water, for mid-August, in the Groverkill.

A gang of dragonflies ushers in the evenings, swooping over the front lawn in the waning golden light, their flight patterns so erratic that if they were people in cars, Michael would pull them over. A grey hummingbird (to my eyes, it’s always the same one) is mad for the tubular orange flowers on the plant Hans and Lexanne gave us in the spring.

And at dinner we devour summer’s sweetness–perfect corn, peaches and tomatoes from the Kingston Farmers’ Market, Davenport and Farm Hub.

So why am I doing a bit of pining for sweaty, light-polluted NYC? (Read tomorrow’s post.)

*Several years ago, Steve asked me if I could live in Stone Ridge full-time. I must have looked stricken, because before I could answer, laughing, he fired off follow-ups, “No? Not enough fizz for you?”

KIngston Farmers' Market, 8/15/15

KIngston Farmers’ Market, 8/15/15

Swimming Hole, Stone Ridge, 8/17/15, left to right: Sycamore; and Leo, 13 1/2 Today

Swimming Hole, Stone Ridge, 8/17/15, left to right: Sycamore; and Leo, 13 1/2 Today

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Lucky Is As Lucky Does

Barry Crimmins and Bobcat Goldthwait, NYC, 6/24/15

Barry Crimmins and Bobcat Goldthwait, NYC, 6/24/15

Barry Crimmins, profiled in filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait’s must-see very funny/very serious new documentary, “Call me Lucky,” states his life goals, “I’d like to overthrow the government of the United States and close the Catholic Church.” The legendary comedian is an alchemist, turning pain and outrage into comedy (hilarious and often appropriately uncomfortable stuff) and activism–fighting against war, inequality, political hypocrisy and the sexual abuse of children.

Born in Kingston, NY, Crimmins grew up farther upstate in Skaneateles, which he calls a “beautiful lake surrounded by fascists.” Goldthwait, for whom Crimmins is both a close friend and mentor, met Crimmins when he and high school pal Tom Kenny (“SpongeBob SquarePants”) were aspirational, awe-struck teenagers, sneaking away from parents in Syracuse to spend time in Crimmins’ comedy club in Skaneateles.

Leaving Skaneateles for Boston, Crimmins, imposing physically, with wild, dark curls and a droopy mustache, became a favorite fixture at a local club, Constant Comedy at Ding Ho Chinese Restaurant. From the stage, he wielded his weapon (topical, political personal humor and unsparing honesty), attracting the admiration of his contemporaries, younger comics and audiences.

Called the “social and liberal conscience” of Boston comedy since its beginning, in 1993 he wrote an essay for the Phoenix, “A Survivor’s Story,” a brutally honest accounting of his repeated rape in the basement of his childhood home by a babysitter’s older male friend, and his rescue by his older sister Mary Jo. (In 1995 Crimmins testified in front of the United States Judiciary Committee to force AOL to take responsibility for and eliminate the flourishing child pornography network using its service.)

Crimmins returns to that basement, accompanied by a somewhat uneasy Goldthwait and his camera, to strip the ordinary space (shelves full of stuff, a fake Christmas tree on the floor) of any residual power it still had over him. “I’m a witness not only to what happens to kids but what you can go on to do and become…I’m here, I made it.  Call me lucky.”

Appraising his life and work, Crimmins says, “If you can judge a person by the enemies they make, mine are NAMBLA and politicians. I can live with that.” Crimmins can also be judged by the large circle of friends he’s created–some of contemporary comedy’s best (including Mark Maron, Margaret Cho, Steven Wright, Goldthwait and Kenny, of course), his sisters, upstate neighbors, other survivors,–who say “everything about him is honest and true,” “truth teller,” “judgmental sage,” and what Thoreau would have been like “if he’d had a computer.”

“My drug of choice is friends,” says Crimmins. By the end of the film,  you’ll want to be someone lucky enough to spend time with this brilliant and ferociously funny man.

“Call me Lucky” will open Friday, August 7 at the IFC Center, and in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Santa Ana, CA, and Austin, and will expand in coming weeks.

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On the Wall, On the Page

Jacob's Ladder, Stone Ridge, NY, 6/5/15, 2:37 pm

“Jacob’s Ladder, Stone Ridge, NY, 6/5/15, 2:37 pm”

I made a book (with expert, tireless help from Mark, aka tech support), a catalog for my current exhibit, “The Way That Light Attaches,” at Milne Inc (through August 31), using Blurb. Like lots of photographers, I spend too many hours stuck in Lightroom. But there’s  an upside–my familiarity with the program made the process of laying out the book relatively intuitive. I had perfect files (which I had used to print the show on my Epson 7900), chose the best paper Blurb offers, and the reproduction of the 15 images is gorgeous.

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“The Way That Light Attaches”

"Columbine, Stone Ridge, NY, 6/1/14, 10:40 am"

“Columbine, Stone Ridge, NY, 6/1/14, 10:40 am”

My new exhibition, “The Way That Light Attaches,” opens tonight from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Milne Inc, 81 Broadway, Kingston, and will be on view through August 31.

I’m excited to be showing new (quite different) work, shot in 2014-2015. The 15 24″x36″ and 16″x24″ color photographs, archival inkjet prints made on my Epson 7900, are about light, depth/focus, scale, motion–and flowers. (While searching for a title for the show, I jokingly considered “Flowers!” but of course Jeb! has the use of the exclamation point all sewn up.)

It’s not that I wouldn’t have thought that flowers were an appropriate subject for photography if I had never seen James Welling’s ground-breaking color photograms. It’s that I wouldn’t have thought about photographing flowers at all. I’ve always photographed people. But since moving to Stone Ridge part-time nine years ago, I’ve begun shooting interiors (Linda O’Keeffe’s spectacular book for Rizzoli, “Heart and Home: Rooms That Tell Stories”), damaged landscapes and plants. There are many things I like about making the new work, including the relative quiet, a change. My portrait shoots are often very noisy, in a great way–talking, laughing, eating.

My mother taught me the names of things in the natural world. Although she grew up in a squat apartment building on New Main Street in south Yonkers, she had a green thumb. Babette and I remember Mommy lavishing attention on her compact garden–there wasn’t much ground to plant, our suburban tract house sat on a typical, small lot–and choosing two young trees, a white birch and a red maple. Before I left for college, they had expanded to dominate the backyard.

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When Political Vitriol Was Infused With Wit

Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, NYC, 6/19/15

Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, NYC, 6/19/15

In 1968, ABC News’ ratings were in the basement. The networks’ executives knew they “needed a media event” and hired two public intellectuals, Gore Vidal, a Democrat and historian, and William F. Buckley Jr., a “new” Conservative, to debate during the Democratic and Republican conventions. The slogan for the coverage was “Unconventional,” which would prove to be an understatement.

Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s riveting new documentary “Best of Enemies” includes the enormously entertaining footage of these two brilliant, supremely articulate men, with patrician accents, going for each other’s political jugular and willfully straying into the personal. The Vidal and Buckley debates–and the ’68 election–revealed the political fault line that still dominates our politics. And spawned TV’s future generations of warring pundits.

Neville (who won the Oscar for best documentary for “Twenty Feet From Stardom”) says, “Ultimately, this is a story about something I care about deeply; how we now ‘talk’ and ‘listen’ to each other through media that is in fact corrosive to our society.”

“Best of Enemies” will open on Friday, July 31 at the IFC Center (Robert Gordon in person at 6:20 pm and 8:25 pm shows and on Saturday, August 1 at 2:15 pm) and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto. A national rollout will follow.

I photographed William F. Buckley in his maisonette on the Upper East Side. When I rang his buzzer, he was the one who answered the door. We probably had nothing in common but our true love of dogs, and that afternoon it was plenty.

William F. Buckley, NYC, 3/21/86

William F. Buckley, NYC, 3/21/86

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James Sneed 1938-2015

James Sneed

James Sneed

James Sneed, an original (in both senses of the word) member of Bridge Group Artists, founded by art therapist Judy Rosenthal 1988, painted because his life depended on it.

In 1959 he was invited to join The Arts Studio on Grand Street and worked with other artists including Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis and Al Hollingsworth. James founded The 20th Century Creators in the 1960s and designed his first outdoor exhibit.

James stopped making his work three times when he was struggling with mental illness. The first time he quit, believing he had exhausted his creative resources, he subsequently returned to painting, spurred on “by pride.” The second, he resumed his work because he “realized that by not painting, I ran the risk of not being able to come back–to return anymore.” And the third time he joined Bridge Group Artists and found a place to work and a support system.

James, a kind and gentle man, called the great painter Jacob Lawrence his mentor, and in turn was a valued mentor–and friend–to other artists in the Group.

James Sneed, "Mother and Child"

James Sneed, “Mother and Child”

James Sneed, Untitled

James Sneed, Untitled

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